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The state’s largest metropolis has just 42,545 residents, but packs a world-class punch with cafes, museums, a thriving arts scene, and year-round outdoor adventures, plus a renowned university. It’s also the first U.S. city to run on 100 percent renewable electricity.
Burlington overlooks the Adirondack Mountains and 120-mile-long Lake Champlain, which divides Vermont from New York State. But its heart beats in the downtown pedestrian mall of Church Street Marketplace. This national historic district protects buildings from 1820 to 1964, including architectural styles ranging from Italianate to Queen Anne, Federal, and Greek Revival, along with some Art Deco and Modernist outliers. But somehow it all works, anchored by Courthouse Square and an 1816 brick Unitarian meeting house. Nearby sprawls the Burlington Waterfront Park with its beaches, boats, and an eight-mile bike path linking parks and green spaces. Take time to linger in this eclectic community, which marries urban intellectualism with bucolic rural Vermont beauty and traditions.
Burlington International Airport (BTV) sits just 3.5 miles east of Burlington. Don’t miss the old Burgess-Wright biplane suspended overhead and the mezzanine-level exhibit highlighting Native Abenaki culture. While compact, this terminal has rental cars, along with shuttles, taxis, and limos. Bus and train travelers arrive at Essex Junction, seven miles east of town. From there, hop a taxi or rideshare — or the Green Mountain Transit bus into downtown Burlington (Blue Line). Looking to switch things up a bit? Ferry in from Port Kent, NY, or bikeshare around town. Drivers rely heavily on I-89, running from Quebec, Canada, to New Hampshire. Heed those “Moose X-ing Ahead” signs: More than 30,000 collisions between vehicles and the colossal beasts have been recorded. On a more micro note, spring brings out spotted salamanders — and the volunteer crossing guards who help them out of the squish zone!
This lakeside city shines brightest from May to September. The festival schedule bustles then, and the trees fill the area with lush greenery, which deepens into glorious hues perfect for leaf-peeping day trips to nearby Middlebury and Jeffersonville. Shoulder season isn’t the best in Burlington. April brings fewer crowds but often lots of mud. And November sees the city pause for a deep breath before the winter tourism onslaught of skiers and snowboarders. Events-wise, turn to February’s Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classic and June’s Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, followed by New England’s oldest and largest quilt event in nearby Essex Junction. Expect dragon boating in August, along with street performers for the Festival of Fools.
An art installation dedicated to peace looks like a 43-foot-diameter prehistoric stone circle on Lake Champlain’s shores. In reality, it’s a giant sundial that relies on visitors to stand in the central gnomon position and cast their shadows. It lies at Blanchard Beach, on the bike path just north of the popular sunset-watching spot of Oakledge Park.
What’s a big landlocked body of water without the specter of a massive, rarely spied serpentine creature? In 1984, the state erected a granite block on Perkins Pier just south of downtown to honor Burlington’s local legend: “Champ,” a prehistoric Nessie-esque beast. It even bears the cryptid’s pseudoscientific name, Belua aquatica champlainiensis. And just in case Champ really is out there, both Vermont and New York have passed laws protecting their lake’s most legendary monster.
Eight miles south of Burlington sits a 45-acre museum celebrating Americana. Its founder celebrated everyday objects, from quilts to pottery and weather vanes. Eventually she began adding historic buildings to house these collections, including a lighthouse, round barn, covered bridge, and the Lake Champlain side-wheeler steamship Ticonderoga.